The head of the Criminal Code drafting team Muladi, left, and Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly speak to journalists at the Justice and Human Rights Ministry headquarters in Jakarta on Friday. (Antara Photo/Aditya Pradana Putra)

Gov't Vows to Complete New Criminal Code Amid Protests


SEPTEMBER 21, 2019

Jakarta. The head of a government team tasked with drafting the new criminal code said on Friday he would complete his job to end a century-old judicial system inherited from the Dutch, despite widespread criticisms that the proposed code contains many contentious articles that overreach into the private lives of citizens and have sparked outrage among human rights activists and legal experts. 

"In my opinion, this cannot fail. It's okay to delay [the passing of the bill] but if it doesn't get passed, that means we still love colonialism. The Dutch-made criminal code was introduced in Indonesia back in 1918 through [colonial-era] law schools," said Muladi, a former law professor at Diponegoro University in Semarang.

Speaking at a press conference in the Justice and Human Rights Ministry headquarters in Jakarta, Muladi said it was high time for Indonesia to issue a new criminal code after 74 years as an independent nation.

"This is not an amendment or a revision. The criminal code bill is a totally new codification to get rid of one hundred years of Dutch colonial influence," he said.

His remarks came moments after President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo urged the House of Representatives (DPR) to postpone deliberations on the controversial bill, saying it had at least 14 contentious articles that need further consultations and careful considerations before they could be adopted.

The president asked lawmakers to postpone the deliberations until the new term at the DPR starts on Oct. 1.

Muladi claimed the works to create Indonesia's own criminal code had started since more than 30 years ago, involving many criminal law experts.

"I joined during the second period. The message is clear: we must end the implementation of a century-old colonial criminal code in Indonesia," the 76-year-old law expert said.

Adultery Punishable by Jail Term

Among other things, the bill came under fire for seeking to criminalize extramarital sex and adultery. Article 417 of the bill stipulates that extramarital sex and adultery could be punished by a jail sentence of up to one year. 

Another article in the proposed penal law bans unmarried couples from living together and prescribes a sentence of six months in jail.

Open promotions of contraception could also constitute a crime according to the bill.

"The state is overreaching with this criminal law code; it's intervening in the constitutional rights and private lives of its citizens," said Abdul Fickar Hadjar, a lecturer in law at Trisakti University in Jakarta.

The bill also recognizes punitive measures according to local customs and traditions when they are adopted as regional government regulations. This means someone could face sentencing for breaching local customs, even when the criminal code itself has no provisions about the alleged crime.

This particular article has also drawn criticisms from legal experts and politicians, who say it could result in many discriminative rules in different regions.

"The concept of a crime must be universal, it cannot be based on certain customs or religions," said Dini Purwono, a spokesperson for the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI).

"This bill is even worse than the existing penal law; it hasn't abolished any single article. What it does is add new controversial articles or reinforce old articles from the colonial era that have been dismissed by the Constitutional Court," Dini said.

Article 219 of the bill stipulates that insulting the president or the vice president is a crime punishable by up to 4.5 years in jail. A similar stipulation in the existing penal code has already been abolished by a Constitutional Court ruling.

An online petition opposing the bill has drawn hundreds of thousands of signatures.

"No, It's Better"

Speaking alongside Muladi, Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly insisted that the bill being deliberated with the lawmakers was better than the existing penal code.

He said the law against adultery and extramarital sex is not new, it is there in the existing criminal code.

The existing law rules that a husband who lodges a police complaint about his wife's affair must include a divorce statement before any prosecution could commence. The bill, he said, does not require a divorce lawsuit for the adultery to be reported.

"If we don’t regulate this particular issue, people will say that the government or the justice minister approves adultery. That's a more serious matter to me," Yasonna said.

The complaint can be filed by the spouses, parents or children, those who were most affected by adultery, he said, adding that an act adultery only becomes a crime if a complaint against it is lodged with the police.

"The criminal code bill is more Indonesian than the existing code," said Yasonna, who will be installed as a DPR member next month unless he retains his job as minister.

"Do not think that the new criminal code produces new laws to criminalize everybody. People often read only the articles while ignoring the explanatory sections," he said. 

Yasonna denied allegations that the bill proposes much more lenient sentences for graft convictions compared to the existing law.

He pointed to Article 3 of the existing Anti-Corruption Law that prescribes a minimum sentence for graft of one year in jail, while the proposed bill stipulates a minimum of two-year imprisonment.